Il Divo, a group created by American Idol judge, Simon Cowell comprises “Cheeky” Carlos Marin from Spain – the group’s only baritone, “Divine” David Miller from the United States of America, “Sexy” Sebastian Izambard from France and “Utterly Fabulous” Urs Buhler from Sweden. They have followed the classical crossover formula which has worked so well for Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, appealing to a market which is simply aching to be tapped into – that of women over 40; feeding them an adult, but still young, heartthrob factor which works almost as well as hormone replacement therapy.

I’m enough of a fan of these talented and gorgeous hotties to have braved large crowds of people, impossible parking and long queues for the women’s toilets on March 1 at the Coca Cola Dome in Northgate Johannesburg. Having said this, the logistics of the sold-out event worked so well that I was pleasantly surprised. This despite the fact that there were about 8000 people in attendance, according to my estimate.

The warm-up act was The Bala Brothers; Zwai, Loyiso and Phelo. They sang a variety of songs including some South African numbers such as Sylvia and Ziph’inkomo and finished with The Circle of Life from The Lion King. Before the main act made its appearance, the lights went on again and I studied the general demographics of the audience: Largely middle-aged, white and female, there were few obvious gay parties although there were several men who looked as if they were accompanied by their mothers or ‘close women friends’.

The group’s own band was joined by the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra to provide superb accompaniment. The technical aspects of the show, both lights and sound, could not be faulted. The sound was, indeed, the best I’ve ever heard in the Dome.

The songs included All By Myself, I Believe In You, Unchained Melody, Mama (dedicated to the women in their lives), Hero, My Way, and Bernstein and Sondheim’s Somewhere. The sentimentality and unvarying nature of the arrangements with an obligatory solo spot for each member of the group before a tutti climax was somewhat over pre-meditated and choreographed. The souvenir programme doesn’t contain a play list. A major flaw in an item costing R100.

Some classical music purists have been very snobbish about Il Divo’s combination of pop and opera which is now being dubbed “popera”, but it is certainly a formula which works for the audience, all of whom looked reasonably happy and content as they left. Most will not have resented paying between R250 and R700 for their seats. The atmosphere had never become electric, but it had stayed upbeat and pleasant all evening.

The Il Divo members have an engaging stage presence and they are certainly available to the audience. At various points audience members approached the stage with flowers and other tributes. At the end they swarmed up and programmes were signed during the singing of the last encore.

Il Divo might be artificial, formulaic and contrived in their present incarnation, but the members are also charismatic, charming and willing to give of themselves to their audience. It is quite easy to relax and enjoy the particular gifts and talents of this group.

Il Divo next perform in Mexico on March 19, before moving on to Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

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